“Because when it’s fight or flight, I always choose FIGHT!”
My son’s answer to the question of what he would do if he were attacked by a minotaur, like the characters from the novel his e-Learning class was reading, was actually pretty accurate. When my kiddo feels danger, he certainly doesn’t run from it! If his brother is teasing him too much, he certainly ATTACKS.
However, his dichotomy of fight or flight, while generally accepted, isn’t an accurate picture of the ways people respond to stress. Humans, when in dangerous situations, are designed to fight, flight, freeze, or bond (or cling). Looking at those four options, when my child is under pressure, he clings. Usually to me. Bodily hanging onto me, knocking me over or pulling me down.
While my son reacts this way to stressors in his life, I respond differently. When I’m under pressure, I freeze (in fact, I just froze as I was trying to start this paragraph). Sometimes it is a feeling of such overwhelm that I can’t start anything. Sometimes it is actually freezing in place, unable to move. Naturally, anxiety triggers a freeze response in me.
In therapy, I’ve been trying to gain a better understanding and appreciation of why God created this anxiety response in us. You know, that fight or flight response is super adaptive and functional in a society where dangers are all around and we just need to find a way to survive. And it is also useful in teaching us not to touch hot stoves or run into the street. But sometimes it gets out of hand and reacts as though everything is life-threatening (even when I know in my brain that it is not. It’s just kids struggling with e-Learning).
I’ve been pondering why God is allowing this in my life. My goal in this struggle is to begin to see my anxious feelings in a different light. I’m trying to teach myself that my feelings of danger are my trigger to Cling. When my body tells me that I need to freeze, I’m trying instead to cling to Christ.
Psalm 61:2 says, “When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”
I certainly need that. I need to cling to my God, my Rock, His steadiness when everything around me seems to be swirling in chaos. I want to grip onto my Father like my kiddo latches onto me when he is upset; to find a similar comfort in His presence.
Like I said, this is not my natural inclination. But I am learning to see anxious moments, not as an enemy to fight against or flee from (into the safety of food or just checking out), or to freeze and let myself be totally overcome by anxiety. Instead, I am learning to see anxious moments as reminders of how dearly I need my Father. To be reminded to go into His presence, finding in Him the safety that I long for.
Although my automatic response to the stress in my life has not been to cling, I can train my body and my mind, to choose this response; the one that will truly keep me safe from danger. As I cling to the Rock, the security that is my Lord, I’m actually choosing the only functional option. The only choice that will actually lead me to the safety, the security, the stability that my soul longs for.
When my soul is overwhelmed, lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.
Copyright 2020, Jo Leggett